Osi Umenyiora was far more under control standing at his locker in the Timex Performance Center today than he is chasing quarterbacks with his signature speed and relentlessness.
The Giants' two-time Pro Bowl defensive end deflected numerous opportunities presented him by reporters to declare that he would return to game action in the Giants-Dallas Cowboys NFC East championship game Sunday night. Umenyiora was more subtle at this game than he is on the field. Because it became clear over the course of the interview that he fully expects to be going after Tony Romo and help the Giants earn their first playoff berth since 2008.
"I am anxious, I miss my teammates, I missed being out on the football field." Umenyiora said. "Every time I am out there I enjoy myself, I love playing. So I have missed it and I am anxious to get back out there whenever it is time."
Umenyiora was then asked how it felt knowing the time could be this week.
"It is exciting," he said. "I am just happy and anxious to get out there. You know, I have watched my guys go out and play outstanding football and hopefully I can just come in and answer that."
A reporter tried getting Umenyiora to bite by saying he could not have selected a better time to return since the Cowboys are bitter rivals and a postseason berth is on the line.
"It is just so funny how things work out and I think this is obviously our biggest game of the season, biggest game we have had here for a long time," Umenyiora said. "Hopefully, I will be able to be out there with my teammates."
If the decision was his alone, Umenyiora would certainly suit up. "Of course," he said, "it is a playoff game." But the Giants' medical staff and Coach Tom Coughlin will also have input.
"There is no question that I want to be out there and I would play if it was my decision, but it's going to be up to them," Umenyiora said.
Because of that, Umenyiora refused to cross the line and declare he will definitely return.
"We will just wait and see," he said. "Everything is going to be up to Coach Coughlin. It's going to be all his decision. So if they need me to play, I feel I might be able to, but we will just have to wait and see.
"Nobody is really saying much of anything. We are just going to wait and see how everything responds with the days of work that I have got and we will go from there."
Umenyiora suffered a high ankle sprain in the Giants game in New Orleans on Nov. 28. The Giants have gone 2-2 in his absence. Jason Pierre-Paul, who this week was named to the NFC Pro Bowl team and is the conference's reigning Defensive Player of the Week, has played Umenyiora's customary defensive right end position and leads the team with 15.0 sacks. Umenyiora, despite missing seven games this season, is second with 7.0.
For the first time since suffering the injury, Umenyiora this week has practiced. He was officially limited yesterday and today.
"He did good," Coughlin said after the workout today. "He did a little bit more, felt better, felt good, moved around well."
But when asked if he is optimistic Umenyiora will play, Coughlin was as vague as his player.
"We'll see," he said.
If he does play, Umenyiora will likely provide a huge boost to the defense. Few NFL pass rushers are as skilled as he. Umenyiora also has a knack for creating turnovers; in 2010, he tied an NFL record with 10 forced fumbles. His presence will also help Pierre-Paul and Justin Tuck take occasional breathers. In the victory over the Jets last week Pierre-Paul played more than 100 defensive and special teams snaps.
"Osi looks good to me," defensive coordinator Perry Fewell said. "Anytime (number) 72 walks on the field for us he looks good. No matter if we get him 10 reps, 20 reps or 30 reps, he looks good to me."
Asked specifically what Umenyiora can deliver, Fewell said, "We definitely expect to get more speed on the field and more pressure on the passer in passing situations. It will just be good to get Osi back. Osi plays the run well, too. However he can help us, which he helped us before he was injured, we'd welcome."
Fewell has the pleasant dilemma of splitting playing time among three players who have been selected to a combined five Pro Bowls. He isn't certain, or chose not to reveal, how that will work.
"This is only Osi's second day of practice," Fewell said. "We'll see how he feels on (Friday). We'll formulate a plan. If we can get them all on the field we'd love to have them on the field. We just want to see how they work tomorrow, also."
Although Umenyiora declined to make any guarantees about Sunday, he was more expansive on several other subjects:
*On whether he or Pierre-Paul should start against Dallas:
"He deserves to be the starter, there is no question about it. He's a guy playing at as high a level as I have seen a defensive end play in a long time. I have been here a while, so whatever this team needs me to do, I will go out there and do. I don't have a problem with that."
*On whether he will be close to 100 percent if he plays:
"You have to. We have so many good defensive players, so I am not going to go out there at 60 percent and take away what it is that they're going to be able to do. Only if I am able to be out there and be myself; I feel like I am still one of the very good defensive ends so, as long as I am able to go out and be myself then I will be out there. But if not, there is no sense in taking away their reps."
*Umenyiora was asked, "Do you think you'll be yourself Sunday night?"
"I wouldn't be out there if I was not going to be myself. Nobody cares if you are injured. Everybody expects you to be the same guy no matter what. So whenever you feel able to play is when you have to go out and play. So if I am out there on the football field, I will be myself."
*On whether he is most concerned about his explosiveness or his mobility:
"It's always explosiveness, because my whole thing is my first step explosion. I have to have that and the past couple of weeks I haven't had it. But it seems to be coming around nice."
*On whether he was fearful he would not be able to return:
"I thought so, honestly, for a while, because everybody who has had the same high ankle sprain that I have has told me it's four to six weeks of recovery time. And I have seen other guys who have had the same injury and try to come back like a Sam Bradford and Ben Roethlisberger and it just seems like they were completely off. So I was a little concerned about that. After last week things started to improve a little bit and hopefully everything will work out for me."
After perhaps two dozen questions, the group interview was ready to wrap up. And with his final answer, Umenyiora proved a clue regarding his plans.
"I am just happy to be able to come out here and help my teammates, especially at this particular time," he said. "I feel like I can help and that's exactly what I plan on doing."
*The Giants made no changes to the injury report they released yesterday. The same four players did not practice: Wide receiver Hakeem Nicks (hamstring), running back Ahmad Bradshaw (foot), tight end Jake Ballard (knee) and linebacker Mark Herzlich (ankle).
"(I) did a little bit of light jogging on the sideline," Nicks said. "We kind of wanted to see where it was at by striding it out a little bit today. It was alright. It is a situation where you know it is going to be there, it's not just going to go away over night. Luckily, I have played with it before, I just have to keep taking care of it and I have no setbacks to this point."
Unlike Umenyiora, Nicks was unequivocal about his plans for the Dallas game.
"I have no doubt in my mind that I am playing, I know that," Nicks said. "It's all or nothing."
In addition to Umenyiora, wide receiver Mario Manningham (knee) was limited.
*For Dallas, quarterback Tony Romo was again limited in practice because of the hand injury he suffered last week vs. Philadelphia. The Cowboys' two 2011 Pro Bowlers, linebacker DeMarcus Ware (neck) and nose tackle Jay Ratliff (ribs), both practiced after sitting out yesterday's workout. Dallas' leading tackler, linebacker Sean Lee, missed his second day of practice
*Victor Cruz was today named the winner of the 11th annual George Young Good Guy Award, as voted on by the Giants' chapter of the Professional Football Writers of America.
The award, named for the late general manager of the Giants, is given annually to honor a Giants player for his consistent and outstanding cooperation with the writers who cover the team on a daily basis. Cruz, in the midst of his sensational breakout season, was a constant presence in the locker room regardless of circumstances. And despite being in constant demand, he never turned down an interview request.
Defensive end Dave Tollefson finished a close second in the voting and safety Antrel Rolle was third. Thirteen players received votes from the members of the Giants media.
Previous winners of the award were:
2010 -- DT Barry Cofield
2009 -- DE Mathias Kiwanuka
2008 -- QB Eli Manning
2007 -- DE Justin Tuck
2006 – WR Plaxico Burress
2005 -- RB Tiki Barber
2004 -- QB Kurt Warner
2003 -- WR Ike Hilliard
2002 -- QB Kerry Collins
2001 -- OL Lomas Brown
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